Fatherly Stuff: A Dad's Guide to Bonding with a Breastfeeding Baby

Jun 10, 2014

A Dad's Guide to Bonding with a Breastfeeding Baby


The following is a guest post that I originally wrote for Our Parenting Spot.

For me, becoming a dad for the first time was an amazing experience. Nine months of planning, anxiety, and excitement reached its climax during labor and delivery. The next thing I knew, I was holding a beautiful, mini human being I helped create. As I was sitting there, high on parental euphoria, I felt like there’s nothing in the world that could ruin such a perfect moment… until the moment was quickly shattered by the baby’s piercing hunger cry. If a baby is breastfeeding, it will probably be mom - not dad - who will swoop in to save the day.

As a new father, you may struggle to find your place in the life of your newborn if your baby is breastfeeding exclusively because much of an infant's time is dedicated to sleeping and eating.[1] For a breastfeeding baby, it is the mother who is the primary source of nourishment. This can be a frustrating and isolating experience for dads. It can sometimes lead to the perception that fatherhood does not play a key role during the early stages of development - a perception which couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are numerous ways that men can make unique and meaningful connections with their babies.

Creating a Routine
Did you know that routines - especially bed time routines - can help your baby?[2][3] There are many facets of daily care which dads can use to create opportunities for bonding. Give mom a break and establish a few things you can do with your baby regularly. Some ideas:
  • bathing
  • dressing
  • diaper changes
While you are doing these things, you can also talk and sing to your baby. Your child will begin to associate these activities with you. As a result, you will be identified as someone who they can look to for care and it will deepen your connection with your baby even further.

Reading
Whether it is at bedtime, in the morning, or anytime in between - reading to your child provides an entire array of benefits, even at the newborn stage. In fact, the first year of life is particularly crucial because this is the time that a child’s brain is making millions of neurological connections while learning about the world around them. Reading to your child will encourage the progress of those connections, increase their comprehension of language, and help them develop a love of books which will last a lifetime.[4][5] One of the most important things about reading to your baby, are the special bonding moments you are creating by holding them close and having them hear your voice.

Skin to Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact[6] is an activity that is highly correlated with the breastfeeding mother and their newborns[7][8]; however, as a father, you can enjoy the benefits of this practice too.[9] The warmth radiated from your body will keep the baby’s temperature regulated and the sound of your heartbeat is soothing to your baby.[10] Just like breastfeeding, skin to skin contact gives the baby the opportunity to get acquainted with your scent and make eye contact with you more often, which will build the foundations of what can evolve into a lifetime bond.[11]

Babywearing
Babywearing seems to be becoming popular amongst men. Fathers can use babywearing to feel a genuine closeness with their baby. Furthermore, if the baby is fussy, wearing them may help in providing relief for both the baby and for your arms.

I've found that baby wearing also provides a level of mobility that you don’t necessarily have while holding your baby or pushing your baby in a stroller. Another plus - I can multi-task when I am wearing my baby.

Check out this babywearing demo video by a dad who seems to have the hang of it:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/1buZcNAOepI?rel=0" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/1buZcNAOepI?rel=0</a>

Get Physical (Within Reason)
Which are you more comfortable with - soft touch or physical play with your infant? Of course, the utmost care and attention must be given when dealing with a baby.[12] Try swaying while dancing to music, or reciting a poem or childhood song, while gently pinching their toes. As your baby gets older and their neck becomes stronger, you can start doing other things. From tummy tickling, to knee bouncing to blowing raspberries, a little gentle play can go a long way towards the giggles that you’ll share with your baby.

A Few Do’s and Don’ts
There's a saying: Experience is the best teacher. I think that this saying definitely applies to being a father. There will be amazing highs which are punctuated with utter (and sometimes messy) lows. While most of them are unavoidable, here are a few Do's and Don'ts that will help keep you ahead of the learning curve:

DO be patient
Bonding with a newborn is something that doesn’t necessarily occur overnight. So do not be discouraged if despite your efforts, your baby continues to cry for their mom. Be persistent and with enough practice, your confidence in your abilities will increase and the baby will be sure to come around eventually.

DO Create Bonding Opportunities
When it comes to creating opportunities to bond with your baby, the following 6 words might be the most crucial you could ever utter to a mom: “What can I do to help?” These words may seem small, but they hold a lot of weight in the eyes of an exhausted mom. Take the baby any and every chance you get. Again, the more you practice, the more your skills will increase and so will the level of comfort you and your baby will have around each other. It might be difficult to help with night time duty if the baby is breastfeeding, but you can provide support by changing their clothes and/or diaper if needed. You can also offer to wake up early in the morning with baby so mom can get some sleep.

DON’T see parenting as a competition
Parenthood is neither a one-sided obligation nor is it a competition; it’s a partnership! There are going to be things that the mother will simply be more adept at; however, that doesn’t necessarily make them a better parent. As you move forward in your fatherhood journey, you may learn that you possess unique skills that your baby can benefit from. It’s all about open communication with your partner to determine how you can best care for the baby as a team.

You ARE Capable
There seems to be a misconception that fathers are inept when it comes to connecting with their kids when they are babies; however, I believe that dads are capable of providing a great amount of care and affection. Do you? A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control concluded that dads are just as hands-on as moms when it comes to raising their kids.[13]

Whether a baby is breastfeeding or not, any man who wishes to create and maintain a bond with their baby must put in the time and effort in doing so. This, along with adequate support from their partner, will ensure that the foundation of their relationship with their child is strengthened early on, and it will continue to progress for years to come.

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 1. Stanford Children's Health: Newborn-Sleep Patterns, 2014
 2. Ask Dr. Sears: 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know, 2013
 3. Science Daily: Bedtime Routine Improves Sleep In Infants And Toddlers, Maternal Mood, 2009
 4. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC): Talking points/Born to Read, 2014
 5. Infant Toddler Specialists of Indiana - ITSI Research Briefs: Effects of shared parent-infant book reading on early language acquisition, 2007
 6. Skin to Skin Contact is also known as SCC.
 7. Sturdy Memorial Hospital: The Comfort of Contact, 2014
 8. OB.Gyn.News: Early skin-to-skin contact promotes breastfeeding, benefits baby, 2013
 9. WebMD.com: Skin-to-skin care with the father after cesarean birth and its effect on newborn crying and prefeeding behavior., 2014
 10. Fathers can effectively achieve heat conservation in healthy newborn infants., 1996
 11. The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA): ICEA Position Paper Skin-to-Skin Contact, 2014
 12. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Shaken Baby Syndrome Information Page, 2014
 13. Centers for Disease Control: Fathers’ Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006–2010, 2013